What does 9/11 Commission Staffer Doug MacEachin Really Think Happened before 9/11?

Sorting Through Murky Circumstances, Mystery Opponents & So-Called Supporters

By Kevin Fenton

maze In his recent book The Black Banners, former FBI agent Ali Soufan portrays a key 9/11 Commission staff member, Doug MacEachin, as believing the CIA deliberately withheld information from the FBI in January 2001. This is in contrast with the Commission’s final report, which states that the CIA failed to pass on intelligence to the FBI on multiple occasions, but puts it down to honest failings.

MacEachin was one of the best-known of the Commission’s staffers before its formation. He was a career CIA officer and even served as Deputy Director for Intelligence between 1993 and 1996.

According to Soufan, MacEachin believed that the CIA purposefully withheld information placing al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash at the Malaysia summit, a gathering of top al-Qaeda figures in Kuala Lumpur in January 2000 that was monitored by the CIA. This intelligence was especially significant because it linked bin Attash, then known to be a mastermind of the October 2000 USS Cole bombing, to future Flight 77 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.

Had the FBI learned what the CIA knew of the Malaysia summit at this time, its Cole investigators would have focused on Almihdhar and Alhazmi eight months before 9/11, giving them plenty of opportunity to stop the plot.

In his book, Soufan describes a meeting between himself and some Commission staffers, evidently Soufan’s second interview with the Commission on September 15, 2003.

terroristSoufan says he started the interview by discussing a source inside al-Qaeda that he and his partner Steve Bongardt had helped recruit some time before the Cole bombing. In late 2000, the source had been shown a passport photo provided by the Yemeni authorities of a person the FBI thought to be bin Attash, and had identified him as such to a CIA officer known only as “Chris” and FBI agent Michael Dorris. This was another plank in the case being built against bin Attash for the Cole bombing.

Shortly after, in murky circumstances Soufan does not discuss, the CIA sent pictures of Almihdhar and Alhazmi taken at the Malaysia summit for the source to try to identify. While Dorris was out of the room, Chris showed the pictures to the source, who said he did not know Almihdhar, but identified the photo of Alhazmi as bin Attash; the two men had similar facial features.

Although the photo was not actually of bin Attash, it simply caused the CIA to believe something that was, in fact, true. Bin Attash had been at the Malaysia meeting, the agency had photos of him there; it simply omitted to show them to the source.


Whereas Chris had had the previous identification, of bin Attash in the Yemeni-provided photograph, repeated for Dorris’ benefit, this second identification of bin Attash was not repeated. In fact, Chris kept completely silent about it.

Soufan quotes himself as telling the Commission:

After 9/11 we learned that the CIA went behind our backs and showed the pictures of the Malaysia summit meeting—the pictures they wouldn’t share with us—to the source. They didn’t tell us that they had shown him the pictures, nor did they share with us what he told them about the pictures. He didn’t know that the CIA wasn’t sharing information with the FBI; nor was he told why these pictures were important. …

… This shows that the CIA knew the significance of Malaysia, Khallad, and Mihdhar but actively went out of their way to withhold the information from us. It’s not a case of just not passing on information. This is information the FBI representative working with the source should have been told about. It was a legal requirement. Instead we were deliberately kept out of the loop.

A Commission staffer then interjected that the CIA claimed it had shared the information, and Soufan responded by asking whether the Commission had checked the “regular cables,” meaning general reporting of the debriefing of the source, including information that would be shared with the FBI and the wider intelligence community. The staffer replied that they had. As later reported, the regular cables contained no mention of the key fact that that the mastermind of the Cole bombing had attended a summit of al-Qaeda leaders in Malaysia. Soufan then asked whether the Commission had checked the “operational traffic,” where mention of the source’s identification of bin Attash was later found. At this point MacEachin exclaimed, “That must be it,” although Soufan judged that the other Commission staffers in the room had not understood his point.

Soufan explains what MacEachin had grasped:

Operational traffic refers to cables sent during an operation. The officer will list procedures, leaving a record in case something goes wrong or something needs to be referred to. Because these cables are strictly procedural and not related to intelligence, they would not be sent to the FBI. If someone wanted to hide something from the FBI, that’s where he would put it. Because Doug had worked for the CIA, he knew what operational cables were, while other members of the team might not have.

This clearly indicates MacEachin had come round to Soufan’s way of thinking, at least on this point. However, the Commission’s final report did not find that this information about bin Attash—or indeed any information—was deliberately withheld by the CIA. In fact, the final report calls this incident “an example of how day-to-day gaps in information sharing can emerge even when there is mutual goodwill.”

Chris subsequently met with the source again, in the presence of Dorris and other FBI agents, and they repeated the first identification of the Yemeni-provided photograph of bin Attash for formal use in legal proceedings. However, Chris did not mention that bin Attash had attended the Malaysia summit. Chris also reported the identification of bin Attash to the CIA station in Yemen, which failed to pass it on to the FBI Cole investigators there. Finally, Chris also asked the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to bring the FBI up to speed with what was going on, but they also failed to tell their colleagues bin Attash had been identified in a Malaysia photograph.

Soufan later refers to MacEachin as a “supporter of mine,” indicating that there was some disagreement inside the Commission. As we can see from the final report, the opinion that the failure to pass on information was not deliberate prevailed.

Nevertheless, there are still questions. In the recently released audio documentary Who Is Rich Blee? 9/11 Commission chairman Tom Kean disagreed with his own report’s conclusions, stating of the CIA’s failure to pass on information: “[I]t wasn’t careless oversight. It was purposeful. No question about that in mind. It was purposeful.” Does MacEachin, agreeing with his former boss, still believe that information about bin Attash was deliberately withheld from the FBI? Also, what other information does he think was withheld—the interview of the source in Islamabad was only one piece of a larger mosaic? Finally, what happened in the discussions of this issue within the Commission—if MacEachin was a “supporter” of Soufan, who were his opponents?

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Kevin Fenton is the author of Disconnecting the Dots: How CIA and FBI Officials Helped Enable 9/11 and Evaded Government Investigations

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  1. jschoneboom says:

    Good stuff Kevin. Thanks for pulling these threads together in a coherent fashion. Keep pulling threads and you never know, you might get the Commission story to unravel in a significant way. The mainstream media are of course doggedly persistent in ignoring news of this kind. But, at the risk of retaining a shred of optimism, I still feel this kind of thing could lead somewhere. In any case, I think it’s excellent, persuasive evidence against the idea of “whoops, miscommunication!”

  2. I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t quite understand the point of this piece.

    If its point was to show bureaucratic intrigue perpetrated by the CIA, or perhaps even to provide cover for the FBI, or maybe to show that the 9/11 Commission obfuscated certain facts, my response is, “Okay, but since we’ve got that established, what now?”

    To my mind the greatest question of importance surrounding 9/11 is the question that’s never been answered to any reasonable standard of believability: who bore responsibility for the attack?

    Although debates over what this or that bureaucrat may have been thinking after the fact may have certain value (and I would be happy to be shown that they have much more value than I’ve been willing to grant), I feel the danger of engaging such debates is that of losing the wood for the trees.

  3. @PiedVow: And I see your point, and understand it completely. This is how I view it: there are those good researchers/investigators who look at the dots, the micro facts, and the specific cases. What they do is very valuable: they provide us with the needed ‘dots’ and examples/facts/cases to put together the bigger picture.

    Then, there is the BIG picture; the macro case. For example, when we start puting together all these ‘intentional’ obstruction and cover up cases/examples by the CIA, and those by the NSA, and those by the FBI, …what does it all mean? the incompetence theory/answer doesn;t hold: whatsoever! The subjective personal goof scenario certainly doesn’t hold …(why would these low level scum bag CIA guys do what did they did?! nothing to gain personally…) …You see my view on this? With these specific micro cases we establish foreknowledge, we establish intentional cover up afterwards, we rule out ‘surprise’ and ‘incompetence’ theories, and we start looking at the macro picture.

    Well, that’s my take;-)

  4. Well to start with I think you should re-look at the USS Cole “bombing” as that event might not be what it was said to have been either. All the so called involved who were caught were released or escaped from prison. O’Neill though it was a popeye2 torpedo from an Israeli sub

  5. Although I applaud Kevin’s article, there are a number errors in this account and in his conclusions.

    First the Yemen CIA station had sent the Soufan Yemen obtained passport photos of Walid Bin Attash to the CIA and FBI HQ in November 2000 after FBI Agent Ali Soufan and Head of the FBI New York field office, John O’Neil made a formal FBI request to the Yemen CIA station for any information the CIA had on Walid Bin Attash and any al Qaeda planning meeting in southeast Asia that the CIA was aware of. Just after the identification on December 16, 2000 by the FBI/CIA Joint source of Walid Bin Attash from his passport photo that Soufan had obtained from the Yemen authorities, the Yemen station requested from the CIA Bin Laden unit, two photos, the photos of Khalid al-Mihdhar and of Walid bin Attash taken at the Kuala Lumpur al Qaeda planning meeting in January 2000.

    These photos were shown to the Joint source on January 4, 2001, and Walid Bin Attash identified from the photo of him taken at Kuala Lumpur. This information was passed on by the Pakistani CIA alat to the Yemen CIA station that had requested these two photos be shown to the FBI/CIA Joint source and was sent back to CIA headquarters and to the CIA Bin Laden unit, in a cable kept completely secret from the FBI.

    Note this account was not murky and Walid Bin Attash was never incorrectly identified from the photograph of Nawaf al-Hazmi. While the DOJ IG report stated theses facts in one section of their report, when the DOJ IG later revisited this account in this same report, it found that clearly two photos taken at Kuala Lumpur had been requested from the CIA bin Laden unit, one of Khalid al-Mihdhar and Walid Bin Attash, by “CIA overseas personnel”. It is clear that the DOJ IG never read his own report to correct information that had been incorrect. While this information on exactly who had requested these photos had been kept secret, and referred to only as “CIA overseas personnel”, it is clear that it was the Yemen CIA station that had requested these two photos.

    On February 1, 2001, Soufan flew out to Pakistan, and had the FBI/CIA Joint source re-identify Walid Bin Attash from the passport photos of him that Soufan had obtained from Yemen authorities, the same photo he had been identified from in December 2000. Even though the CIA Pakistani alat was sitting right next to Soufan when this identification was done again on February 1, 2001, this CIA officer kept completely silent about the identification of Bin Attash just the month before from the Kuala Lumpur photo. He not only kept silent about the identification of Walid Bin Attash, but about the fact that the FBI/CIA joint source had also been shown a photo of Khalid al-Mihdhar. When this identification was sent back to the CIA bin Laden unit and the CIA Yemen station, this information was also kept secret from the FBI by all of these CIA units.

    Since the Yemen station had been asked twice by Soufan and John O’Neil in November 2000, if the CIA had any information on Walid Bin Attash or any al Qaeda planning meeting in southeast Asia, the CIA was well aware that the FBI Cole investigators had identified Walid Bin Attash as one of the masterminds of the Cole bombing and knew that they thought he had attended an al Qaeda planning meeting just shortly after the failed bombing of the USS the Sullivans, with other terrorists connected to the Cole bombing. The CIA including the Yemen station, the Pakistani station and the Bin Laden unit were all aware that the FBI Cole bombing investigators were keenly interested in any information on any al Qaeda planning meeting that they thought bin Attash had attended, and on any information on bin Attash himself. So they were fully ware when they did not give the information they had on this meeting and on bin Attash they were withholding material information from an ongoing FBI criminal investigation.

    So it is clear that when the CIA had identified Walid Bin Attash from his Kuala Lumpur photos on January 4, 2001 and then keep this information completely secret from the FBI Cole bombing investigators, all of the people involved clearly knew they were committing major and extremely serious Federal felonies, the crime of withholding material information from an ongoing FBI criminal investigation into the murder of 17 US sailors.

    It is also clear at the very time Soufan and John O’Neil had requested information from the CIA Yemen station, that this station knew about the meeting in Kuala Lumpur and knew or suspected that Walid Bin Attash, Khalid al-Mihdhar had attended this planning meeting actually planning the Cole bombing. When the joint FBI/CIA source confirmed the identification of Walid bin Attash on January 4, 2001 from the Kuala Lumpur photo for the CIA Pakistan Alat, it reconfirmed the information that the CIA had been aware of all along.

    In spite of having this information, and in spite of formal FBI requests from Soufan and O’Neil, the Yemen Station, the Pakistan station and the CIA Bin Laden unit never gave this information on this meeting or the fact that Walid Bin Attash and Khalid al-Mihdhar had been at this meeting to O’Neil, Soufan or the other Cole bombing investigators. They further concealed this information from the FBI by deliberately leaving this information out of any cable that could have been sent from the CIA to the FBI, but internal CIA cables that were never to go to the FBI only had this important information.

    Since several different CIA stations were involved and all involved at very the high level managers levels in the CIA, it is clear that the only common denominator to these three CIA stations and this criminal conspiracy was George Tenet, the Director of the CIA himself. It is obvious that no one in the CIA would deliberately commit a serious felony that would send them to prison for years without being directly ordered to by the very highest level of the CIA, the CIA Director George Tenet. It is obvious that Tenet himself had over seen this huge criminal conspiracy and included Coffer Black, Tenet’s deputy and head of the CIA CTC section, the unit directly over the CIA Bin Laden unit and Richard Blee, head of the CIA Bin Laden unit.

    It is clear that once the CIA had identified Walid Bin Attash at the Kuala Lumpur meeting, and knew that al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi had been at this same meeting planning the Cole bombing, the CIA, and their director, George Tenet, realized immediately that the CIA had actually allowed the USS Cole bombing to take place. The CIA had photographed many if not all of the al Qaeda terrorists at this Kuala Lumpur meeting in January 2000, knew they were al Qaeda terrorists planning future attacks on US interests, even knew that they were all connected to the east Africa bombings that had killed over 200 people including 12 Americans, even knew that the east Africa bombings investigations were still ongoing at the FBI, yet the CIA deliberately let all of these terrorists walk away to carry out the Cole bombing. The CIA had been criminally culpable in allowing the Cole bombing to take place and George Tenet knew it. This huge criminal conspiracy was started to cover up the CIA criminal culpability in having allowed the Cole bombing to take place.

    Incredibly in November 2000 Soufan asked Louis Freeh, FBI Director, if Freeh would ask George Tenet if the CIA had any information on Walid Bin Attash or on any al Qaeda planning meeting in south east Asia, see account of Ali Soufan by Lawrence Wright, in the New Yorker July 10-17, 2006. Freeh told Soufan that the CIA had none of the information. But page 181 of the 9/11 Commission report and page 238-239 of the DOJ IG report state that Freeh himself had gotten information on this meeting in December 1999 and again in January 2000 from the NSA and the CIA respectively, and the fact that Khalid, Nawaf and Saleem were attending this meeting. Freeh also had this information in January 4, 2000 daily briefing papers. The full name Khalid al-Mihdhar is also found in Louis Freeh’s daily briefing papers. Freeh also knew that these terrorists were linked directly to the communication hub in Yemen that had been the communications center for the east Africa bombings. But Freeh never gave any of this information to Soufan in November 2000. It is clear that not only had the CIA sabotaged the FBI criminal investigation of the Cole bombing, but that FBI Director Freeh had also criminal sabotaged his own investigation of this attack. There appears no other explanation other than the CIA had talked Freeh into sabotaging his own criminal investigation. Why no one in the main stream media has ever connected these facts together when millions must have read the article in the New Yorker and had access to both the 9/11 Commission report and the DOJ IG report is an ongoing mystery but says volumes about the main stream media.

    The 9/11 Commission kept the significance of this horrific information silent from the American people. The statement “However, the Commission’s final report did not find that this information about bin Attash—or indeed any information—was deliberately withheld by the CIA. In fact, the final report calls this incident “an example of how day-to-day gaps in information sharing can emerge even when there is mutual goodwill.” is nothing more than an attempt to cover up criminal actions by the CIA in withholding material information from an ongoing FBI criminal investigation. This covering up by the 9/11 Commission in fact is a serious crime in itself since this commission had been tasked with finding out the facts that had allowed the attacks on 9/11 to take place. It is clear that the 9/11 Commission was nothing more than an attempt to prove to the American people that the CIA and FBI had not deliberately allowed that 9/11 attacks to take place when the information now found in the US governments own investigations of 9/11 prove just the opposite.

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