Had America's counter-terror agencies thoroughly studied the spectacular exploits of one Ali Muhammad, former Egyptian army major, perhaps the American army major, Nadal Malik Hasan, would have been stopped short before he reached Fort Hood and murdered 13 victims.
Ali Muhammad, a highly educated, multilingual Egyptian university graduate, launched his unbelievable clandestine career in America when he joined a special program for foreign officers at the US Army Special Forces School in Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 1981.
He was forced to quit three years later when he exhibited extreme religious Islamist tendencies.
Pushed out of one door, he entered by another. Back in Cairo, he offered his services to the CIA as a spy. He was accepted, but then dropped when he secretly contacted a branch of the Lebanese Hizballah in Germany.
Although blacklisted by the CIA for admission to America, he wangled his way to the US through another secret CIA program.
Some time later, he came under the eye of the FBI, which photographed him giving weapons training at a shooting range in Calverton, Long Island, to a group of New York Muslim residents from the Farouq Mosque in Brooklyn. He taught them to use AK-47 assault rifles, semiautomatic handguns and revolvers in combat conditions.
But then the FBI was persuaded to drop its surveillance of the group's activities when US Special Forces officers at Fort Bragg were told by the CIA that Muhammad was an important asset for US national security. They had singled him out as an expert on radical Muslim thought patterns and modes of operation.
Double terror agent goes triple
Only after the initial attempt to bomb of the Twin Towers in 1993, did it transpire that the group Ali Muhammad instructed during his long absences from Fort Bragg was the hard core of a home-grown American al Qaeda cell, which plotted bombing attacks on New York's bridges and tunnels, and was later involved in the attacks of September 11.
To this day, US authorities stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that home-grown al Qaeda networks are at work in America.
But the Egyptian ex-major's destructive career as the darling of US intelligence was far from over.
Like the US army and CIA, the FBI also decided to draw on his invaluable knowledge of jihadist mentality and recruited him as their informant as well.
He served the FBI from 1989 to1994 in his overt clandestine guise.
But the many-faced Egyptian also embarked in those years on a second, covert clandestine career kicked off when Egyptian Islamic Jihad chief Ayman al–Zawahiri recommended him highly to his new ally Osama bin Laden as a penetration agent in the United States.
Muhammad, the FBI's double agent went to dizzy new heights as a triple agent while never losing sight of his true Islamist allegiance.
When he was discharged from the Army in 1989, Muhammad moved to Santa Clara, CA, his wife’s home town. He quickly set up a base of operations together with his friend and Egyptian Islamic Jihad comrade, Khalid Abu-al-Dahab. From 1990, El-Dahab’s apartment was an important communications hub for al-Qaida and Islamic Jihad cells all over the world. The FBI, whom Muhammad continued to serve, knew nothing of his extracurricular activities in al Qaeda's service, but believed he was their trusted agent and contact man in the arcane Islamist world.
No more fear of discovery then than Major Hassan today
Those years saw the Egyptian triple agent at his peak.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources, the same ones which tracked his double career in the late 1980s, describe him as traveling around the world in the service of a clutch of masters, bin Laden, Zuwahiri, the CIA, the FBI and US Special Forces. He shuttled freely between California, Afghanistan, Kenya, Somalia and at least a dozen other countries, throwing bones to the Americans while performing high-wire exploits as a high-powered terror facilitator.
He was no more afraid of discovery than Hassan, whose classmates at a 2007-2008 master's program at a military college were revealed this week as having repeatedly complained about his anti-American comments. Dr. Val Finnell confirmed that the major, who was to shoot dead 13 comrades, had given a presentation at the Uniformed Services University that justified suicide bombing and told classmates that Islamic law trumped the U.S. Constitution.
Their military superiors reacted in the same way in November, 2009, as they did twenty years ago in the case of Ali Muhammad. In 1988 too, his commanding officer at Fort Bragg, Col. Anderson and fellow officers detailed reports attesting to the bizarre behavior of the Egyptian-American officer. They received no answer.
In 1992, the CIA entrusted him with the delicate mission of persuading Osama Bin Laden to remove himself from Afghanistan. Far from sending the al Qaeda leader into harmless exile, as his American bosses intended, Muhammad helped him rise like a Phoenix in Khartoum, Sudan, with a new base of mujahidin operations.
In May 1996, the Sudanese government banished bin Laden and his company of about 150 men, women and children from the country. The CIA enlisted Muhammad to secure their passage back to Afghanistan (sic). Some months later, the Egyptian-American agent and his secret friend Dahab visited the al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan to report on their successful recruitment of 10 Americans.
End of a charmed life for an Islamist terror facilitator
Two years later, in 1998, Muhammad returned to Africa entrusted by al Qaeda chiefs with a central role in planning the bombings of US embassies in East Africa. Those attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salam in August 1998 left 224 dead and 4,500 people injured.
Two weeks after the East Africa bombings, FBI agents entered Muhammad’s Sacramento apartment and found evidence of his activities as a covert terrorist. He had arranged to return to Egypt and on to Afghanistan to rendezvous with bin Laden, but before he could leave, he was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury on September 10, 1998.
The charmed life of this incredibly resourceful Islamist, who had won the trust of the CIA, FBI and US army, ended the day he planned to fly to Egypt. He had led America's security authorities a merry dance for nearly two decades.
Major Malik Nidal Hasan is no Ali Muhammad. He does not share the former Egyptian major's rare talents. But their cases are comparable because both long exhibited Islamist extremist and terrorist proclivities which were ignored by US powers-that-be.
From early 2007 until Nov. 5, 2009, when he drew a pistol at Fort Hood and massacred 12 US soldiers and an American police officer, wounding 30 others, he exhibited increasingly radical Islamist symptoms for all to see. That day, he calmly went shopping at a base store in traditional Muslim dress that he wore for morning prayers every day. When questioned, he said he had taken to occasionally dressing like this. Before arriving at the base, Hasan stopped passersby outside his apartment to offer them copies of the Qoran and pieces of furniture.
They still didn't want to know
Since then it has been revealed that as far back as 2001, when he stationed at the Walter Reed Veterans Hospital in Washington D.C., he regularly attended the Dar al-Hijra mosque in Virginia, where two of the 9/11 bombers prayed. Hasan became an admirer of the mosque's preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, the 9/11 bombers' mentor and defender of suicide attacks.
Hasan in all the documents he has filled out always identified himself as “Palestinian” under nationality although he was born in the US. Certain unnamed intelligence sources say Maj. Hasan came under their surveillance after trying to contact al Qaeda outside the US by email.
Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, now wants Congress to determine whether the shootings constituted a terrorist attack.
“If Hasan was showing signs, saying to people that he had become an Islamist extremist, the US Army has to have zero tolerance,” Lieberman, said “He should have been gone.”
The new wall of Fort Hood
The congressional inquiry will no doubt call up the intelligence summing-up of the Ali Muhammad case in 2000, when he was sentenced to life in prison.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources quote it as saying:
“The Muhammad case also shows how easily even a top-level terrorist can operate in the United States. Presumably that is more difficult now than when Muhammad was active. However, the story of Muhammad's dual roles as bin Laden terrorist and FBI informant illustrates the problems still facing U.S. intelligence services as they attempt to penetrate terrorist groups in the United States and abroad.”
The following year, America suffered its devastating September 11 terrorist attacks. Yet eight years later, an American Muslim soldier was able to murder his comrades on American soil because the US army has not learned the lessons of 9/11 even though it has been engaged for years in two wars against radical Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of all, it has neglected to look inward at its home-based forces.
US intelligence and army culture and their perception of Islamist terror at home have not changed since September 2001.
However, it was hard to ignore the tall barrier of ships' containers with a single gateway erected to enclose the area of the memorial service at Fort Hood for Major Hasan's victims before the arrival of President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.
This makeshift barrier clearly indicated that the US army had finally prepared for possible snipers, gunmen or other armed attackers opening fire on those present at the ceremony.
Perhaps this is a first sign that the Hasan attack has forced a change in military thinking and an awareness of the dangers within.