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The Hunt for the Mastermind of 9/11: Book Excerpts

The book “The Hunt for KSM” is being billed as The definitive account of the decade-long pursuit and capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,  who authorities believe was the architect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Authors  Josh Meyer and Terry McDermott have pieced together the compelling story about the hunt for the man who became known within law enforcement circles simply as KSM.

KSM was captured on March 1, 2003, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency of Pakistan,

Josh Meyer/book photo


Meyer is a former chief terrorism reporter for the Los Angeles Times and is currently the director of education and outreach for the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative at Northwestern University in D.C.

Terry McDermott is the author of Perfect Soldiers: The 9/11 Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It and 101 Theory Drive: The Discovery of Memory.

Terry McDermott/book photo

He worked at eight newspapers for more than thirty years, most recently for ten years at the Los Angeles Times, where he was a national correspondent.

Here are three excerpts from the  book.  Background summaries are provided before every excerpt.

Excerpt 1

Background: KSM escapes in Qatar, and Frank Pellegrino, the FBI’s “KSM case agent’’ who had painstakingly gathered enough evidence to get him indicted by a federal grand jury in New York blows his top when he finds out, as he suspects KSM was tipped off by someone in the Qatar govt. and that the U.S. ambassador let it happen because he didn’t want to upset the host government.

While the diplomats debated with the Qataris on how they could or could not help one another, the FBI moved a rendition aircraft and team into nearby Oman. Pellegrino was there, waiting; he was called to Doha to help explain again to the Qataris why the American government wanted Mohammed.

The idea was that Pellegrino, the man with the nitty-gritty details on how bad an actor KSM was, would be able to persuade the Qataris to help.Pellegrino flew to Doha. He never met a single Qatari official.

For two weeks, he cooled his heels at the embassy and the local Sheraton while the American ambassador, Patrick Theros, negotiated with the Qataris, at times with a CIA official also in attendance.

Pellegrino got so exasperated that one afternoon he called Garcia, even though it was 3:30 a.m. New York time, and said,“Clear your head,” and then asked the assistant U.S. attorney to please impress upon Theros how much the Justice Department wanted Mohammed, and to tell him why a U.S. plane and a team of agents was waiting to go wheels up next door in Oman. Garcia

could be a very forceful person, and even half asleep he made his case. Nothing seemed to matter. There was even an attempt by former president George Bush to persuade the Qataris, with whom Bush had had good relations, but there was no progress in the meetings, which went on for days.

Melissa Mahle would later blame the FBI for the stalemate, saying it never should have risked involving the Qataris. The FBI blamed Theros and the Qataris. It is not difficult to imagine the Qatari government’s reluctance to assist the Americans.

Radical Islam as a global force didn’t appear to threaten America. At the time, even bin Laden was mostly regarded as more of a nuisance than a danger. Outside the FBI, there were very few people anywhere in the world who thought Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was a significant player in anything. Pakistani intelligence, for example, did not seem to be concerned about him. The Qataris apparently didn’t care, and seemed to be supportive of KSM’s jihad.

Then one day Theros came back to the embassy from yet

another meeting with the Qataris. Pellegrino had been waiting anxiously for an update. Theros had one: the Qataris, who were supposed to be watching KSM, had “lost” him. How, an American official asked, do you lose somebody in Qatar? Theros said that by “lost,” he meant that KSM had slipped out of the country. Pellegrino was less tactful. Looking at the ambassador, he said: “You motherfucker . . .” Almost as an afterthought, he threw in, “Sir.”

Theories abounded as to who could have tipped Mohammed, some more plausible than others, but the mystery was never solved.

Those involved said they had come within an hour, maybe two, of taking KSM into custody. After he was gone, the Qataris denied the Americans access to his apartment or office. At the White House, an angry Richard Clarke demanded a postmortem from the CIA about how it could have happened, whether intelligence indicating that sympathetic Qatari officials had undermined the

U.S. effort and aided his escape with travel documents were true, and where KSM might have gone. “How many flights are there out of Qatar?!” he wanted to know. Clarke said he never got anything from the agency. White, the U.S. attorney, called Freeh and Reno in Washington to say, “Let’s keep this pedal to the metal because we are really concerned about him. But Doha was the last easy chance to catch KSM. It really would not have been a great deal more complicated than any of a thousand arrests that are made every day around the world. From that point on, Mohammed was aware he was being sought, and behaved like it. But he didn’t curtail his far- flung activities. In fact, having lost his home base in Doha, he might have traveled more. His itinerary — if it’s Tuesday, it must be Brazil — read like some mad tourist jaunt.

He juggled identities and appearances to suit his objective of the moment.

Excerpt 2

Summary: Two FBI agents who questioned Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in Thailand in early 2002 literally stumbled onto what was by far the biggest break in the 9/11 investigation– that KSM, a terrorist long-forgotten by everyone but one of their colleagues in the New York field office, Frank Pellegrino, was the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. (The FBI and CIA had also been hunting a mysterious “Mukhtar, or “the brain’’ or the “chosen one’’ as a big player in Al Qaeda, but didn’t know it was KSM.)

Gaudin gave Soufan the PDA with what he thought was a photo of [suspected Al Qaeda operative Abdullah Ahmed] Abdullah, but he had accidentally called up a photo of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Zubaydah suddenly squeezed Gaudin’s arm. Gaudin became agitated, thinking Zubaydah was claiming that the photo of KSM was Abdullah. He stopped the session. He told Zubaydah to quit wasting his time. After all we’ve been through in the last two days, after all we have done for you, he said, don’t you dare lie to me.

Zubaydah replied: “No, I’m not lying to you. That’s Mukhtar.”

Soufan, standing out of line of vision of the photo, was puzzled.

Gaudin, still aggravated, said: “I know exactly who this is. This is Ramzi’s uncle, the plot against the pope, the plot against the Philippine airline.”

He rattled off a bunch of information on Mohammed,

then said, “I don’t want to talk about him. He’s not important to me. What’s important to me is this test, if you’re going to be truthful to me. I’m here to talk about Abdullah. Don’t talk to me about this guy anymore.”

They resumed the slide show, but Zubaydah interrupted again.

“How did you know about Mukhtar?” he asked.

Gaudin finally realized then that Zubaydah must know KSM, which made no sense. Zubaydah was Al Qaeda; KSM was Abdul Basit’s uncle, a freelancer. He brought KSM’s photo back up on the PDA and told Zubaydah with feigned frustration, okay, say whatever it is you wanted to say about the man in the photograph.

“That’s Mukhtar,” Zubaydah said. “How did you know that Mukhtar was the mastermind of September eleventh?”

Gaudin was so stunned he nearly fainted. Zubaydah had asked how the Americans had known that KSM was one of the most wanted men on the planet, the mysterious Mukhtar. Of course,they had no idea, but Gaudin gamely told him they knew everything:

“We told you we already know the answers. When we ask you questions, we already know the answer.”

He congratulated Zubaydah. “See, this is what we’re talking about, this is being honest with us. Thank you for being honest.”

Gaudin was worried he wouldn’t be able to maintain his calm in front of Zubaydah any longer and, gathering his resolve, calmly told him he needed to take a bathroom break. He and Soufan went out of the room. Once outside, Gaudin could barely contain himself.

“That’s Frank’s guy,” he told Soufan, referring the Manila case agent, Pellegrino. “Frank’s guy is the mastermind of nine eleven.”

The pair were stunned. They didn’t quite understand how they had done it, but both knew they had uncovered a huge piece of information. They had to tell Pellegrino, their bosses, the world.

Gaudin told the lead CIA agent at the site they needed to send cables immediately to their respective headquarters, telling them Zubaydah had produced the single most important piece of the September 11 puzzle to date — that Frank’s guy was the mastermind

of 9/11. The CIA man stared blankly at them and said, “Who the hell is Frank?”

The FBI and CIA— so often on parallel tracks that never Converged — had been chasing Al Qaeda, the 9/11 plotters, KSM, and Mukhtar without the slightest hint that they were all connected.

When Gaudin finally reached Pellegrino in New York, he told him as best he was able over an unsecured international connection what had transpired. Pellegrino was speechless. The last name he wanted to hear in connection with 9/11 was KSM, Pellegrino said later. “You want to crawl under your desk. I would have preferred any other name in the world.”

When Soufan reached Kenny Maxwell, a supervisor on the counterterrorism squad in New York, and told him that “Frank’s guy” had planned 9/11, the supervisor’s immediate response was that it was another suspect in the Manila Air plot, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.

No, Soufan said. KSM.

“Shit,” Maxwell said. “He’s not even Al Qaeda.”

It didn’t take long for it to dawn on the counterterrorism squad members — and, soon, others in the FBI, the CIA, and the White House — that the identity of the mastermind of the worst terrorist attacks in history had been right there in front of them all along.

The alert went out — aggressively, urgently, quietly. The very public hunt for bin Laden and company continued to dominate the headlines, and preoccupy the U.S. military. But the U.S. arsenal of tracking satellites was spun up and retasked toward a new target.

The FBI and the CIA mobilized, and the entire weight of the U.S. war on terrorism was shifted toward an effort to find a man whose last known location was somewhere deep in the underworld of Karachi, Pakistan, enmeshed in a web of jihadis and the intelligenceofficers who protected them.

It would soon become the largest secret manhunt in history, a guns-drawn chase through the streets of some of the world’s most dangerous places. But it would be nearly another year — a year full of attacks and plots in the U.S. and everywhere else — before KSM was finally run to ground.

Excerpt Three

Background:On the morning of the 9/11 attacks, nearly everyone in the world thought they were the work of Osama bin Laden except two men – the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force agents who had spent eight years traveling the world hunting someone else – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. FBI agent Frank Pellegrino and his former sidekick, a now-retired Port Authority cop named Matthew Besheer, felt a sense of immediate dread. They knew KSM and his team still wanted to do a “planes operation’’ and also to return to the World Trade Center and finish the job they started with the 1993 bombings.

On the morning of 9/11, Besheer, now a health nut and patrol officer for the Punta Gorda police department, had just finished his early morning walk across the bridge between Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda, made a cup of coffee, and gone to his computer room. His wife, Barbara, called out to him to come watch the TV.

A plane had just hit the World Trade Center, she said, apparently a commuter plane.

His stomach sank at the mere mention of a plane and the Trade Center in the same sentence. He got up from the computer and walked slowly into the living room. When he saw the smoke pouring out of the North Tower, he knew immediately what had happened.

After he watched the second plane come careening in minutes later, he turned, walked to his bedroom, and started packing.

His raid jackets— the familiar law enforcement outerwear worn on hazardous assignments — had been hanging neatly in his closet since he left the Port Authority the prior year. He laid them out on the bed. His wife walked in and asked what he thought he was doing.

Besheer, despite his powerful physique, was gentle by nature and habit. Now, however, he grabbed his wife’s arms, fiercely. He shook her and wailed, “I told you they were coming back!” Besheer had a long record of warning people that the same group of terrorists who attacked the Trade Center the first time would come back and finish the job, reminding them of what Basit had said that night as his helicopter passed the Twin Towers. He said it at his retirement dinner from the Port Authority in 2000 and numerous times before and after. He told his Port Authority bosses when he abruptly retired, after they once again asked him what the hell he was doing over there on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, racking up so much overtime to chase ghosts around the world.

Still holding his wife, Besheer sank to his knees. Then his cell phone rang. It was Pellegrino, calling from Malaysia, where he had gone to meet a potential informant as part of his continuing hunt for the Manila Air coconspirators. Pellegrino had high hopes for the meeting, which was supposed to take place the day before, but the informant never showed. He had first called his wife in New York, but couldn’t reach her. He was not usually an emotional man, but he sounded distraught. He was yelling into the phone:

“Bash, look what they’ve done! Look what they’ve done to us!

They did the building and the plane all in one!”

They both knew exactly who “they” was. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the first name Pellegrino thought of when he saw the news.

Besheer sat on his bed and cried. He couldn’t stop. Once he did, he finished packing his clothes, stocked a cooler full of snacks and juice, gathered his suitcase and his raid jackets, threw them in the backseat of his car, and headed north at high speed. He got pulled over for speeding even before he got out of Florida.

When the state trooper looked inside the car and saw the raid jackets, he pulled back and looked at Besheer. “Godspeed,” he said, and waved him on.


Justice Dept Sues Apple and Other Publishers For Conspiring to Inflate E-book Prices

Shoshanna Utchenik

If you ever wondered why e-books were so pricey, now you know.

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that it has filed an antitrust lawsuit in New York against Apple and five big-time publishers,  Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster, accusing them of conspiring to keep the price of ebooks high.   At the same time, the department said it had filed proposed settlements with Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster.

The settlement would grant retailers–such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble–the freedom to reduce the prices of their e-book titles, the Justice Department said.

“As a result of this alleged conspiracy, we believe that consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.   “We allege that executives at the highest levels of these companies–concerned that e-book sellers had reduced prices–worked together to eliminate competition among stores selling e-books, ultimately increasing prices for consumers.”

To read other stories on the subject click on the following:



Feds Indict Penn. Man for Cross Burning

Shoshanna Utchenik

Old expressions of hatred live on.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division on Tuesday  announced charges against A 20-year-old Pennsylvania man for burning a cross in 2010.

Authorities said that Ryan M. Held, aka Ryan M. Foley, 20, of Philipsburg, Penn., was indicted on March 27 by a federal grand jury for burning the cross outside the residence of a white woman who associated with an African-American male.  The two-count indictment charges Held with violating the housing rights of the two victims by burning the cross for the purpose of threatening and intimidating the victims in order to interfere with their rights to occupy a dwelling free from racial discrimination.

 If convicted, Held faces a max of 10 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 on each count.

This case was investigated by the FBI and the Penn. State Police and is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania and the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

DC Elections Board Investigates Activist Video Involving Atty. Gen. Holder’s Voting Ballot

Atty. Gen. Holder/doj photo

By Shoshanna Utchenik

 Apparently the DC Elections Board didn’t find a recent activist video about  voter fraud very funny.

The undercover video posted online triggered a DC Board of Elections investigation Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. The video showed an unidentified member of Project Veritas attempting to vote as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at a D.C.  polling station.

The AP quotes board members as saying the voting booth is “sacrosanct” and isn’t the place to debate or try to influence policy questions, such as voter ID laws.

In this latest video from activist James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, DC’s lack of ID requirement is brought under scrutiny. The board said the incident on video was fraud but acknowledges it’s not clear whether the actions could lead to prosecution. The activist insisted on leaving to get an ID before accepting Holder’s ballot.

Appeals Court Rules Against 2 Secret Service Agents in 1st Amendment Case

By Courthouse News Service

Two Secret Service agents must face claims that they violated the First Amendment rights of protesters at a 2004 campaign stop for President George W. Bush, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday.

The federal appeals court in Portland, Ore., denied qualified immunity to agents Tim Wood and Rob Savage, finding that they may have engaged in viewpoint discrimination when they ordered anti-Bush demonstrators to move two blocks away from the president’s hotel and undergo security screening. Bush supporters, meanwhile, were allowed to get closer to the hotel without screening.

To read the full story click here.

FBI: Texas Topless Club Owner Put Hit on Arlington Mayor and Atty

FBI Whistle-Blower Claims Agency Blocking Her From Publishing Memoirs

By Allan Lengel

FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds is causing a stir once again.

The former contract linquist for the FBI, claims, via her lawyer, that the agency’s prepublication review is imposing restrictions that are blocking her from publishing her book about the bureau, the Associated Press reports.

AP reported that she was fired a decade ago after complaining to supervisors about shoddy wiretap translations and after she made allegations about an interpreter tipping off targets about FBI surveillance.

The book is entitled: “Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story.”


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