Shining new light on 9/11, The New York Observer's Aram Roston reports this week on a CIA attempt to recruit a "gay terrorist" to infiltrate Al Qaeda in the months leading up to the attacks. A concise briefing:
Who is the "gay terrorist"?
An Iraqi Arab named Ahmad Hikmat Shakir and described as "enigmatic but jovial...tall as a mushroom, fat and gay." He worked as a VIP greeter for Malaysian Airlines.
How did the CIA discover him?
He came onto the CIA's radar in January 2000 after he met up in Kuala Lumpur with Khalid al-Mihdhar, a known al Qaeda terrorist who would go on to hijack an airliner on 9/11. Al-Mihdhar, who'd recently obtained a U.S. visa, was being tracked by the CIA.
How did they try to recruit Shakir?
The CIA approached him with idea of "flipping" him — that is, getting him supply intelligence about Al Qaeda. (Current speculation centers on whether Shakir might have helped the U.S. prevent 9/11.) Though agents were "rebuffed," the CIA reportedly "rifled through his house" for incriminating evidence but found none.
Why did they think he would act as a mole?
Because he was gay. Islamic jihadists "don't take kindly to homosexuality," and "threats to expose" Shakir's "sexual orientation" could have been a "powerful motivator." Mohammad Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, was "also rumored to be gay."
So the CIA tried to blackmail Shakir?
Again, it's unclear. One "ex-intelligence operative" said that "hostile recruitments" almost never work. "It is spy novel stuff," he said.
What happened after the CIA approached Shakir?
He fled the country and vanished. Mihdhar also disappeared, along with another 9/11 terrorist named Nawaf al-Hazmi. (The two would not emerge until "months later," when they turned up living in an apartment in San Diego.)
If the CIA knew these men were terrorists, why didn't the government stop 9/11?
Because the CIA didn't share information with the FBI. The Feds would not find out about Mihdhar's U.S. visa or the terrorists' travel to the U.S. until "it was too late." This regrettable saga formed a key part of the 9/11 Commission's report on the attacks.
Why didn't the CIA share information with the FBI?
According to one theory, the CIA concealed intelligence "out of spite" because they "simply hated the FBI." But fear of blowing the Shakir operation may have been another factor, explains the Observer. Sharing information with the FBI would have "blown the lid" on the "Shakir gambit."
Where is Shakir now?
He was "picked up" by authorities in Qatar and Jordan in 2001. After being "quickly released," he vanished and has never been seen again.
Source: New York Observer
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Stop making fun of philosophy and read some philosophy
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The real lesson of the looming Martha Coakley disaster
- Beware of Splenda: The backlash against artificial sugars
- Sorry, we will not all be having sex with robots in the future
- How the brides of ISIS are attracting Western women
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How to live a long life, according to science
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- For Democrats, the right lesson from 2014 is to be more liberal
Subscribe to the Week